The major consumer wine publications, such as The Wine Advocate (Robert Parker), The Wine Spectator, The Wine Enthusiast, and Steve Tanzer (Food & Wine) all rate wines using a point system. Now that the holidays are upon us, and you may be shopping for wines using one or more of these systems, let’s look at them a little bit.
What do they mean?
Whatever you want them to mean…or nothing. You can pay as little or as much attention to them as you like, but keep in mind that they are entirely subjective; they generally reflect the views of one reviewer; and they all are kinda like the SAT – wines get points just for showing up and signing their names (varietals?). For example, two rating systems start at 50, one at 70, and another at 80, so the 100-point scale per se is somewhat, ah, pointless.
Of course, you can certainly learn how some of the best palates on earth feel about specific wines and vintages. So if you want to know what they like, and want to buy what they buy (or are often given, really) then follow them religiously, by all means.
An alternative, and much smarter in my view, is to talk to your local wine retailer. Tell them what your preferences are – red or white; light, medium or full-body. Let ‘em know what you’re planning to eat, too, so they can help you match and pair the wine with food. Given ‘em a price range, say, $10-$20, and if you have a preference for a grape, such as Zinfandel, or a region such as Italy, Spain or California.
If you still want an idea about wine ratings, here are the basics of the four best-known and most-used rating systems:
The Wine Advocate
96-100: An extraordinary wine of profound and complex character displaying all the attributes expected of a classic wine of its variety. Wines of this caliber are worth a special effort to find, purchase, and consume.
90-95: An outstanding wine of exceptional complexity and character. In short, these are terrific wines.
80-89: A barely above average to very good wine displaying various degrees of finesse and flavor as well as character with no noticeable flaws.
70-79: An average wine with little distinction except that it is soundly made. In essence, a straightforward, innocuous wine.
60-69: A below average wine containing noticeable deficiencies, such as excessive acidity and/or tannin, an absence of flavor, or possibly dirty aromas or flavors.
50-59: A wine deemed to be unacceptable.
The Wine Spectator
95-100: Classic; a great wine
90-94: Outstanding; a wine of superior character and style
85-89: Very Good; a wine with special qualities
80-84: Good; a solid, well-make wine
70-79: Average; a drinkable wine that may have minor flaws
60-69: Below average; drinkable but not recommended
50-59: Poor, undrinkable; not recommended
The Wine Enthusiast
98-100: Classic; The pinnacle of quality
94-97: Superb; A great achievement
90-93: Excellent; Highly Recommended
87-89: Very Good; Often good value; well recommended
83-86: Good; Suitable for everyday consumption; often good value
80-82: Acceptable; Can be employed in casual, less-critical circumstances
85-89: Very Good to Excellent
70-74: Below Average